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The Erotology of Donne's "Extasie" and the Secret History of Voluptuous Rationalism

Catherine Gimelli Martin
Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
Vol. 44, No. 1, The English Renaissance (Winter, 2004), pp. 121-147
Published by: Rice University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3844662
Page Count: 27
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The Erotology of Donne's "Extasie" and the Secret History of Voluptuous Rationalism
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Abstract

This essay challenges the contention that Donne's "Extasie" is a seduction poem, the now current reading initally resisted by distinguished scholars such as Herbert J. C. Grierson, Helen Gardner, and Merritt Y. Hughes. Their failure to defend Donne's seriousness is traced to three main sources: 1) fashionable Freudian, New Critical, and/or New Historical irony; 2) the semisecrecy of the "voluptuous rationalist" tradition behind the poem; and 3) Donne's technique of "scandalously" challenging the conservative humanist and/or Puritan reaction against incarnational Neo-Platonism. Focusing mainly on the two latter points, this essay excavates the poem's roots in Plato, Epicurus, Cusanus, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and their late Renaissance revitalizers: Michel de Montaigne, Paracelsus, Desiderius Erasmus, and Sir Thomas More.

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